The loosening of travel restrictions at the Canadian border comes as many experts agree Ontario has now entered a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections.
The decision to start reopening the border was made some time ago when both Canada and the United States were seeing a decline in COVID-19 cases. COVID indicators have taken a turn in recent weeks fueled mostly by the more transmissible Delta variant.
When the federal government updated their border measures on July 19, Ontario had a seven-day rolling average of 155 cases. That average now sits at 261 cases, up from 196 one week ago.
Dr. Susie Hota, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at the University Health Network, tells the Toronto Star she believes it is a risky time to start reopening the border.
Hota worries that Canada could start importing cases from south of the border now that more U.S residents are allowed to enter the country for non-essential reasons.
All incoming travellers must be immunized with a Health Canada-approved vaccine at least 14 days prior to arriving in the country. Proof of vaccination has to be uploaded to the “ArriveCAN” app and all travellers still have to provide a quarantine plan just in case.
Unvaccinated individuals will not be allowed to enter Canada through non-essential trips. If someone or a group is considered essential, they must quarantine for two weeks.
In the U.S., the CDC recently updated its guidance saying vaccinated people can spread COVID-19 as easily as unvaccinated people, despite not showing symptoms. But the report also noted that infections were still occurring at a higher rate among unvaccinated people.
Biostatistician Ryan Imgrund argues that Ontario’s fourth wave will be fueled by the Ford government’s refusal to implement a proof of vaccination system.
“Without a doubt, Alberta, B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan are now in the fourth wave,” says Imgrund in a Sunday tweet. “The missing province? Manitoba. It requires proof of immunization.”
Imgrund says that the unvaccinated make up 360 of Ontario’s 423 Sunday cases despite making up only one-third of the province’s population.
Pressure continues to build on Premier Doug Ford to introduce some sort of vaccine passport across the province with Quebec’s Premier Francois Legault announcing last week that his province will introduce a vaccine passport system to help prevent a fourth wave.
Ford said weeks ago he’s “never believed in proof” and that “everyone gets their proof when they get the vaccination.”
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) published an open letter last week, calling for vaccine passports.
“Having a secure passport will allow people who have received both doses of the vaccine to enjoy the things they have been missing out on for the past 17 months,” says RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth. “We are facing dangerous variants and a fourth wave driven by those who aren’t vaccinated; a vaccine passport helps address that.”
Ontario reported 423 new cases of COVID-19 Sunday, an increase from the 378 new cases reported on Saturday. Sunday’s case total marks the highest number since June and the third straight day of increases.
There are 115 people in intensive care due to COVID-related critical illness and 76 patients are on ventilators.
Fully vaccinated travellers from other countries will be allowed to enter Canada starting Sept. 7. Though the federal government said at the time of announcement that the tentative date will hinge on case counts remaining low and vaccination rates continuing to trend in the right direction.